I woke up this morning thinking about my mom. It happens regularly but today it felt different … like I was chatting with her face-to-face.
Our last conversation at the hospital shortly after she was admitted for chest pain went like this:
“It’s 3 a.m. You need to go home and get some sleep. I’ll be okay.”
“I think I’ll just stay here with you. I’ll sleep in the chair.”
“No! You don’t need to do that,” she says in her best mom voice.
“I can sleep in the chair,” I counter.
Dismissing me in classic Italian ‘I’m right’ attitude, she continues, “Take my clothes. Don’t forget my shoes.”
“Alright. Fine. I’ll bring you clean clothes in the morning. I’ll be back here by 6:30,” I allow.
“Don’t come until eight. Hand me my Rosary, please.”
We linger in our hug. She places both hands on my face, kisses me on the forehead, “Thank you. I love you. Take my glasses.”
We burst into laughter. “If I take your glasses, you won’t be ableto see to order breakfast!”
“I’m not hungry, anyway,” she giggles. I hug her tight as calm sweeps through me. She looks radiant. Perfectly healthy. Faith erases my fear of losing her. She closes her eyes to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary with her favorite Rosary . I say a decade on the drive home.
My phone rings. It’s 7:45 am. A physician urgently explains how Mom had a massive heart attack just minutes earlier. She mentions that Mom held her Rosary through it all. The ringing in my ears obscures the doctor’s words. I want to vomit. ‘Not yet!’ pulsates through my body.
Phoning my brother and sister brings rolling waves of tears. I hate myself for not staying with her. She died alone with a doctor she didn’t know holding her hand.
Entering her hospital room, Mom is propped on pillows. Her eyes are shut. Her hands folded on her lap – always the proper lady.
My brother, Danny, is first in the room. Leaning in to kiss her he’s surprised and whispers, “She’s still warm.”
I sit on the bed taking her hand in mine. It’s warm, soft, and familiar. My husband, brother, sister with her husband sit in chairs gathered around Mom’s bed. We cry, laugh and joke. We settle in. We share stories, discuss plans for her funeral, cry a lot more. Together, we travel through the entire five stages of grief in the two hours we spend with her prior to the funeral director arriving.
I don’t know what happens to the human body when one passes away. I don’t clinically know how long it takes for a person to become cool as their soul leaves them. Mom was as warm to the touch for the two hours we were with her.
It’s Sunday, September 8, the significance of the day isn’t lost on me. The Catholic Church celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary’s birthday on this day. Mom relied on Mary every day of her life. Her devotion to Mary has been a constant comfort in my life because Mom taught me to love Mary as I love my Mom.
The Catholic Church celebrates the month of May in honor of Mary. My mom celebrated her each day. Let me briefly explain Mary’s role in the Catholic Church to those who may have questions or are not Catholic. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Catholics believe that worship is due to God alone. Catholics do, however, venerate Mary. In other words, we honor our Blessed Mother with great reverence and devotion because she is the Mother of God. Mary is the model of perfect love and obedience to Christ. God preserved Mary from sin, and she conceived our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing Christ into our world. Catholics can’t help but honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is full of grace, the Mother of God, and our Mother, for her ‘yes’ to God that made the Incarnation possible. And without the Incarnation, we would not have salvation. Mary is the most beautiful model of total submission to the will of God. Catholics do not view Mary as equal to Christ, but rather venerate Mary because of her relationship to Christ. Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. (CCC964)
I work to match Mom’s devotion to Mary. I struggle but through Mom’s example I’ve learned that Mary is a protector and friend. I know I’ve been very blessed with a beautiful relationship with my Mom and not everyone is blessed that way. A great solution, if that is your situation, could be a relationship with Mary. She will help you in infinite ways.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand even for me, a cradle Catholic. But I think it’s important to consider the blessings Mary bestows as a gift from her son, Jesus Christ. Mary was a very real, very human woman with doubts, fears, joys, and unbelievable sorrows. She is the epitome of a strong woman.
I often examine what, if anything, could have been different or better the last time I was with Mom. When she died, my heart was irrevocably broken. I was incredibly blessed by this impromptu healing process simply holding her hand in that stark hospital room. Looking back, it was also an utterly joyful and freeing experience. Mom was calm. She trusted that God was in complete control. She was brave. She wasn’t alone as I mistakenly thought when I received the phone call from the physician. She had Mary by her side, holding her hand. Mom passed on with grace, strength, and dignity. I hope to have a fraction of that grace when it’s my turn.